In the city

If you go down into town today, you’re in for a big surprise…

From 11:00 today in Victoria Square, right in the heart of Birmingham, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of a strange new object that will tour the city’s parks and open spaces over the coming months.

Imagine a gigantic acorn. Picture it? Now give it wheels, contort its surface into shapes that resemble Birmingham landmarks, and cover it with mirrors.

Hold that image. Roughly speaking, you’re now picturing the National Trust’s new OakMobile.

Built and managed by theatrical company, Talking Birds, the OakMobile will give inhabitants of Birmingham the chance to share stories about the places that are special to them.

It’s being launched today in Victoria Square, Birmingham, alongside a whole host of theatrical events and fun, family-friendly activities. The plan is then for the OakMobile to appear at various parks and open spaces across the city of the next couple of months. People will be able to visit, share their special place and learn more about the National Trust. We will also be giving people to chance to win Magic Tickets to visit National Trust places.

The OakMobile will be in Victoria Square today. ©Talking Birds

The OakMobile will be in Victoria Square today. ©Talking Birds

The OakMobile project is part of the National Trust’s current work to engage with people living in cities. Aware that the majority of the UK population is urban, we’re trying to be more relevant and interesting to these city-dwellers. The National Trust was founded with a strong focus on the city. One of our founders, Octavia Hill, was a keen advocate of preserving open space for the benefit of ordinary Londoners.

We’re preserving that legacy through our work in cities. In London, for instance, we’ve helped put on the Chelsea Fringe Festival, celebrating gardens, gardening, and green space more generally. We’ve partnered with GreaterSport in Manchester to produce a programme of sports activities over the next two years in Dunham Massey and LymePark.

The Trust’s work in urban areas is all part of the #NTCities programme. We spoke to Victoria Bradford-Keegan, the #NTCities programme coordinator, about her work, why the National Trust should try to engage city inhabitants, and about the plans for the Birmingham OakMobile. 

What is the #NTCities programme?

NTCities is a three year programme, through which we are testing different ways of engaging with urban audiences. It’s very much an experiment – some have called it a Petri dish, but that description is a bit sticky for my liking. We’re working in several of the bigger cities in the UK (London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Cambridge, Derry/Londonderry, Cardiff and Bournemouth), trialling a whole host of different activities and ways of working. We’re now half way through the three year programme. At the end of the three years we’ll hopefully have a really good picture of the different kinds of activities that interest urban audiences. We can then roll out those approaches across the National Trust.

What work the National Trust doing in cities?

We’re doing a whole range of things and popping up in unexpected places. There’s Octavia’s Orchard on the South Bank in London, the Oakmobile in central Birmingham, and in August we’ll be in the centre of Manchester for 11 days with the Dig the City Festival.

We’re making more of the outdoor spaces in our properties that sit on the fringe of cities. We’re talking more about the way we work, what we do, raising awareness and increasing knowledge of the National Trust. And we’re doing more to work in partnership with other people and organisations across the breadth of the cities we work in; over the past two years, for instance, the National Trust has joined the LondonParks and Gardens Trust to open up over 200 green spaces in the capital as part of the London Open Garden Squares Weekend. Elsewhere we’re partnered with several large city parks to celebrate our urban green heritage, with projects such as Heaton Sparks and the Leazes Park Project.

 Why is it important that we engage urban audiences?

Cities are where the majority of people live. We need and want to people who live in urban areas to think what we do is important to relevant to their lives in the cities. After all, it was our founders’ aim for the National Trust protect special places ‘for ever, for everyone’.

Do you have a favourite project that the #NTCities project has helped deliver?

I enjoyed the London Project’s Dawn Chorus event earlier this month. And I’m really excited about the OakMobile that launches today. It’s a brilliant way of capturing the attention of the inhabitants of Birmingham and finding out what makes their city special to them. And then there’s the Gardener in Residence project, that will be launched in Manchester in the next couple of months. 

Can you tell us about the OakMobile? It sounds exciting…

The OakMobile is quirky, larger-than-life vehicle that will make its way around Birmingham this summer. It looks a bit like a gigantic acorn. As your eyes move towards the top of the OakMobile you’ll see bits of the Birmingham skyline and familiar National Trust properties reflected in design. It’s literally reflective, too. Looking at it you’ll be able to see yourself and your surroundings in its surface. The OakMobile itself has been built and is being run by Talking Birds, a site-specific theatre company.

It’s being launched today in Victoria Square in the centre of Birmingham, and is then going to tour around various parks and open spaces in the city over the course of the summer. We’ll be celebrating the launch of the OakMobile with a fanfare of circus theatrics and family-friendly activities.

We want to use the OakMobile to get people to talk about the places that are special to them. We’ll be collecting these stories and sharing them in the OakMobile.  

It’ll be touring parks and open spaces in Birmingham over the summer, but if people can’t make it to the Oakmobile they’ll be able to share their stories on the Twitter and Facebook pages.

  • Are you heading to see the OakMobile in Victoria Park today? Send us your pictures via Twitter, @NTExtAffairs, or use the #OakMobile hashtag.
  • Follow the OakMobile’s progress this summer by checking their Blog and Twitter, @NTOakMobile. 
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